The invitation for the screening of this thriller, directed by Nishikant Kamat, suggested bringing along children. But given its theme of kidnapping and redemption and underlying tone of violence, children might find the film rather traumatic. For however well-meaning Shailja Kejriwal’s script may be, the movie, with a running time of 133 minutes, is a bit overwrought and testing even for adults.

Irrfan Khan, stooped shoulders, tramp-like in his appearance, is a man possessed. For a large part of the film, he’s nameless, but not directionless. When the home minister’s son, Rohan (Vishesh Bansal), is kidnapped from outside his boarding school, the state machinery is mobilized and the investigation to find the child and bring the perpetrator to book is handed over to Nachiket Verma (Jimmy Shergill). But Khan’s Nirmal is an Everyman, so ordinary he’s easily lost in a crowd.

And that’s the essence of Madaari—to do A Wednesday! (Neeraj Pandey’s 2008 film) with contemporary scandals and headlines. Nirmal is a traumatized man mourning the loss of his only son in an accident. He represents every citizen ruing the deep corruption that plagues the country and the faceless thousands who battle a disinterested system.

Kamat raises his own game given a good script and a solid actor at the centre. The changing dynamics between Nirmal and Rohan over a period of days follows a nice arc. And before the audience can think of it, the cocky youngster chips in with mention of the Stockholm syndrome.

Parallel to Nirmal playing the conductor of this chaotic orchestra, Nachiket is constantly marching from one place to the next, managing the investigation, but the madaari (street performer) is always a step ahead. Through the investigation, the audience knows who has the child and feels the man is clearly not all bad, although one wonders about his eye-for-an-eye method.

Interestingly, you don’t feel afraid for Rohan, who is rather brave and bratty. It’s also a relief to see a straight and measured portayal of politicians, with Tushar Dalvi making a great impact as the father and home minister, torn between duty and family. His monologue about the deep-rooted corruption and diseased state (sharp dialogue by Ritesh Shah) is as moving as Khan’s deeply hurting father. He touches your heart and draws you into his grief.

The narrative is not entirely smooth, the direction is uneven, the screenplay flirts with unnecessary cleverness and a pre-interval ballad makes you groan. But Irrfan Khan’s soaring performance compensates for many of these niggles and leaves you thinking about the common man’s angst.

Madaari released in theatres on Friday.

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